Saturday, June 07, 2008

Why Sen. Clinton Lost

As Hillary Clinton goes about the business today of finally conceding what we have known since late February -- that Barack Obama will be the Democratic Party's nominee for President -- pundits across the country will go into overdrive attempting to answer this question: how did she lose? Given the extraordinary advantages she appeared to have a year ago, how did she lose this race to a relative newcomer?

Analysts will posit many theories -- most of them incorrect. Some will point out the damage done by her early attempts to move to the political center. Certainly, it was striking to hear her booed at meetings in previous years over her refusal to acknowledge error over her votes on Iraq. However, given her longstanding reputation within the Democratic Party, she had every reason to believe that she would be able to hold the left. Others will blame bad media coverage, though negative coverage of the Clintons mostly followed, rather than preceded, Sen. Obama's success, and it should have not been enough to overcome her initial advantages. Others will blame her husband's bellicose excesses. While the former President proved to be a problem who made Theresa Heinz-Kerry seem angelic in comparison, a spouse alone should not have been able to bring Sen. Clinton down. Indeed, Sen. Obama's spouse is a bit of a loose cannon, as well, but she did not prevent him from winning.

Let's try this as a theory: she was simply not a very good candidate. Her speech making sounds shrill, and she even came to admit that she lacked her opponent's ability to inspire. She lacks subtlety, especially when she goes on the attack. Her embellishments of her record not only resulted in fact checking, but also in ridicule. She was unable to sell a rationale as to why she should be elected. In spite of the fact that she was offering something new -- by becoming the first female President -- she found herself being looked at as representing the politics of a bygone past. She, laughably, tried to sell herself as the candidate of experience, in spite of the fact that she has none -- unless one counts the experience of being the spouse of the President.

She simply did not run a very good campaign. She was such a poor candidate that she squandered away the advantages of the Clinton organizational machine. She was also so poor that she failed to defeat a candidate with considerable weaknesses.

Her lack of ability as a campaigner merits scrutiny by Sen. Obama's team as he goes about the task of selecting a running mate. Her short-term ability to help unify the party (an over-rated need: the activists decrying her loss will ultimately decide that they can't allow the Republicans to win) would ultimately be diminished by the negatives she brings to the ticket. Indeed, George Will is right about this:

That this idea [making Sen. Clinton his running mate] survived her off-putting speech Tuesday night, after Obama won the right to choose a running mate, is evidence that many Democrats do not fathom the gratitude that less-blinkered Americans feel for Obama because he has closed the Clinton parenthesis in our presidential history.

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